THE grape harvest is well under way in the tiny hamlet of Stopham.

Vineyard staff have been working through the downpour to harvest what is expected to be a good crop yield at Stopham Estate vineyard near Pulborough.

Founded by Simon Woodhead in 2007 when he planted 21,000 vines on the estate after finishing a viticulture course at Plumpton Agricultural College.

He chose the sandy south facing six hectare slope for white and sparkling grape varieties, with the aim of “crafting inspired, lovely and sustainable wines in our state-of-the-art winery”.

Simon, who had just returned from travelling around Madrid, had initially planned to import Spanish wines.

Once he had enrolled on the course, he changed his thinking. Simon said: “I quickly realised my desire to plant vines in England and make wine here, and set about raising money to plant the vineyard.”

Stopham produce a crisp wine from white and sparkling grape varieties, and their Pinot Blanc and Pinot Gris have won many accolades. Most memorably, being selected for the Queen’s party on the Royal Barge at her Diamond Jubilee celebrations.

Their message is clear “English wine made with precision and passion in Sussex.”

Simon was joined by assistant winemaker Tom Bartlett in 2010, just in time for the first vintage

The well known wine critic Jancis Robinson said: “It’s a pleasure to travel round the world and no longer have to apologise for the quality of English wine..... Stopham Pinot Gris 2010 seems to have come to the rescue of English wine writers everywhere”

Stopham Estate wines are stocked by Henry Butlers wine merchants in Brighton.

Still grape varieties are de-stemmed, crushed and macerated before being pressed to maximise fruit extraction.

All stainless steel fermentation tanks are installed with temperature regulation jackets, temperature sensors and carbon dioxide sensors.

Fermentation rates are controlled automatically so that the fermentations are slow and gentle.

This is done in a closed loop control system using carbon dioxide sensors, which measures the fermentation rate in real-time.

Bottling is done under inert gas, with bottles sealed under “Stelvin Lux” saran tin screwcaps.

Wines are scientifically analysed and monitored in our wine laboratory.

A spokesman said: “Vines produce the best fruit on free draining soil, like the sand we have at Stopham.

“Vine roots can extend more than 6m in the ground making them drought proof once established. However this free draining soil creates challenges which we must address.

“Firstly, we have had to increase the organic matter in the soil using copious amounts of manure from the Stopham cattle, as well as add fertiliser.

“Also, rabbits enjoy burrowing in this sand so they always keep a spade handy in the tractor just in case we come across a hole.

“The vines were planted by a specialist planting team from Germany using lasers to guide the planting tractor at precise distances from the preceding row.

“We space the rows wide enough to allow good sun exposure.

“Before planting, the field had been harrowed and sub-soiled so the new vines slotted easily into the soil.

“Weather is the key challenge to yield in England.

“It is said that for every three years, there is one bad year, one medium year and one good year.

“For example, 2012 (the year of the London Olympics) proved a terrible year when we lost the crop to continuous pelting rain, whilst 2015 and 2016 were average, 2017 pretty bad (due to frost) and 2014 was fantastic.

“So, the hurdles to overcome are mainly from God – avoiding the frost just after the vines start growing in April, rain during flowering in June/July and the need for a warm ripening period in September.”